Sunday, May 31, 2009

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten

Ethics. Morals. Values. Principles. Right and wrong. Standards of behavior. Codes of conduct. Virtues. Dictates of conscience.

Yes, you can see it coming: yet another massive subject inappropriate for the limited confines of a blog. Yet, you would be right; he is about to start up again.

I’m not walking away from the Constitution posts either. But I think even I have come to realize that is really too big a subject to blog about. Several shelves in many libraries are filled with thick books about the U.S. Constitution and the philosophy behind it. Even the U.S. Supreme Court can’t agree on what it means half the time. So I intend to lower my sights a bit on that and only blog (at some future date) about socialism in America, and how the federal government has led us down that ten trillion dollar path paved with good intentions. Or how we have allowed it to lead us.

Not now, though.

::Scarlett O'hara: "I just won't think about that ten trillion dollars until tomorrow."::

Today, let’s talk about “society” (for want of a better word) and how we try to get along with one another, with varying degrees of success.

What are the “rules” of society? (Here I am talking about Western Civilization, realizing that the rest of the world doesn’t think the same way “The West” thinks, to say the least.) In other words, when I talk about something being “right” or “wrong” I am speaking in a Western context.

This is not something I am trying to “teach” here on this blog. Rather it is only intended to stimulate discussion, in an effort (as usual) to suck new information and ideas out of you to feed my insatiable appetite for new morsels of information and facts and points of view. I believe that the more options one is able to identify, the better are the choices one makes. And I believe options come from knowledge.


If you are formally studing Ethics (Western Philosophy) at university you will soon come to the opinon that there are three main schools of thought: Aristotle (who speaks of “Virtues”); Kant (who speaks of “Duty”) and Utilitarianism (trying to make the most people happy.)

That’s pretty boring, though. I want to be more practical. So let me talk first and then you can attack.

::Climbs up on his imaginary blogger soapbox with the siderails which keep him from falling off in his excitement and agitation:: The following comes from me, and not from a particular textbook.

Why a formal code of ethics? Why not just do as you think is right? Live and let live?

That works fine as long as you are the only person living on the planet. But when there are two or more of you, then you need some rules. And we have a lot more than two now.

The word “ethics” means a list of moral principals which govern a person’s (or group’s) behaviour.

What is morality? What is a moral principal?

Morality goes deeper into human “character” than simple "rules" or societal laws. Morality addresses “goodness” and “badness”. Who defines good and bad? Who says killing another person is bad? Society says. The group of people you have chosen to live among, that’s who. So, I define “society” as a group of people who are living together and who are trying to get along with one another.

Right away, we can see that you don’t get to make the rules you live under, at least not the basic rules. If you want to be a pig and smell like a bear and push other people around, then go live in the mountains somewhere by yourself. But if you want to live around other people, then take a bath and watch your mouth and don’t push to the head of the queue.

And more. A lot more.

But beyond simple rules that help us get along with each other on a day to day basis, there arises the concept of morality: good and bad. Or as Dubya would say, “Good and Evil.”

I am not here right now to address the concept of “evil”, although that sounds like a really good argument for a future post. Evil smacks of religion. Of course I acknowledge the “input” of religion over the years in forming the ethical code of conduct we live under in Western Civilization. So I can’t promise not to talk about religion at all in these posts.

Ethics are more than just the ground rules that society says you have to live under. If the society you live in says “Don’t murder or we’ll kill you”, then don’t murder. But I would also hope you don’t murder because you think it is morally wrong to murder.

Some of you may notice I seem to be tap dancing around the terms “murder” and “kill.” This is because I believe murder is always wrong and killing is not always wrong. In other words, I believe that taking another’s life is wrong in some cases and not wrong in some other cases.

And this is probably a good place to stop the first post rather than raising a whole list of ethical questions. One is enough for now.

My thesis: “Murder” is unlawful killing. Unlawful killing is wrong. Legally wrong and morally wrong. Society says it is wrong and the philosophy held by Western Civilization says it’s wrong.

But there are times when killing is legal and therefore not murder. Society (that group of people we talked about earlier) has a right - both a legal and a moral right - to protect itself and to enforce the rules the people in the society have agreed to. Therefore, the soldier or the police officer does not do murder when they kill in the course of their societal mandate, and neither does the state executioner do murder when he kills at the direction of the state.

Murder is hardly the only subject that we can talk about when we discuss “ethics” or “morality” or “personal codes of conduct.” I have a lot more issues that I will bring up in later posts. Yes, indeed. The photograph at the top of this post, for example, suggests another question of morality, at least in the antebellum American South: how could one condone the institution of slavery and still claim to be a moral and upright person? And that, in turn, brings up another question of ethics (or at least situational ethics): how will we be judged by people 200 years from now? Or should each man be allowed to live in his own times and be considered moral if he keeps to the ethical standards of his own time?

Like so many of these questions, there are no cut and dried answers, but I hope much food for thought and conversation. And yet, is there not a common thread of morality that defines Western Civilization, over the ages, in a larger sense? If so, what is that larger, more general, set of values that define us as a people, regardless of the era we live in, and set us apart from the Eastern school of ethical thought?

I have a feeling that my views here are not the only ones that exist, and I have a feeling I will hear from you. But don’t just tell me that you think I am wrong. Tell me why.

::Carefully steps down off his soapbox as he wipes bits of spoiled tomatoes from his chin::


The right to be heard does not include the right to be taken seriously. (Hubert Humphrey)

The First Amendment protects you from being dragged off to jail by your government for what you say. However it does not protect you from being booed and hissed in the comments. (Relax Max)


All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don't hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don't take things that aren't yours.

Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.


Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life -- learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup --they all die. So do we.

And then remember the Dick and Jane books and the first word you learned -- the biggest word of all -- LOOK.


Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. [The book is by Robert Fulghum. If you don't have it, you should have it. Peruse it here.]


The photograph at the top of this post is an out-take frame or publicity still from the motion picture "Gone with the Wind", based on the novel of the same name by Margaret Mitchell. Depicted are award winning actress Vivian Leigh in character as Scarlett O'hara, and award winning actress Hattie McDaniel in character as Mammy. Miss McDaniel is the first African American to be nominated for, and win, an Oscar. Selznick International Pictures or its successors owns this motion picture and thus the photograph.

Friday, May 29, 2009

But, but, but... What IF???

[He continues, being egged on by the comments of the previous post...]

Fair enough. But what if instead of an innocent teenaged boy, the person lying in the bottom of the boat near death were a condemned murderer who was due to be hanged upon arrival at port? (And he was very plump to boot.)

Notwithstanding the aversion to eating your fellow travelers (although they probably taste just like chicken), are your values about not taking a life still the exact same, standards-wise?

I am reminded of the VERY old joke about the man in the bar who asked the beautiful woman if she would make love to him for $10 (although I don't think the original joke used the term "make love") and she slapped him silly. Then he asked her if she would do it for a million dollars and she said, "Of course." And then (hell, you've all heard this when you were 10 years old) he says, "How about $100?" And again she slapped him up against the wall and said, "Just what do you think I am??"

Wait for it.

And he says, "We've already established what you are. Right now we are just haggling over the price."

Is that also somewhat true of your values about taking a life to save your own? I mean, would it make a difference if the meal-to-be were worthless scum? - if the price were right, metaphorically speaking?

If so, dear liberal, blow out your death-watch candles the next time Texas executes a child murderer. Your hypocrisy is showing.

But kudos to you if you walk the walk and truly wouldn't kill the worthless meal because it contained LIFE, period.

Me? I think I would have tried much harder to fish instead of pissing and moaning about my limited options until it was too late - maybe just take a few chunks out of him for bait. Sort of a maritime Shylock as it were.

Spock: "There are ALWAYS options."

For those who missed the first party at #17, this is post #100 of my 2009 blog.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ethics, part one: Is it okay to eat the boy?

Scenario #1 (true):

U.S. ship "William Brown" left Liverpool March 13, 1841 bound for Philadelphia.

April 19, 1841, it hit an iceberg and sank.

Two boats were lowered. On the larger boat, the first mate, 8 seaman (including a man named Holmes) and 32 passengers got on board the longboat. In the second, smaller, boat were the captain, second mate, 7 more crew and one passenger.

From the very beginning, the longboat was leaking. When the two boats separated, the captain told everyone on that boat to obey the orders of the first mate. The first mate told the captain straight out that the longboat was unmanageable, and unless the captain could take some of the longboat's passengers, it would be necessary to cast lots and throw some people overboard.

The captain (allegedly) replied: "I know what you will have to do. Don't speak of that now. Let it be the last resort."

During the night the sea grew heavier and the longboat began taking water over the bow. There were pieces of ice floating about. The makeshift plug on the original leak came out. The first mate, who had been bailing forever, suddenly stopped in despair and cried out, "This work won't do. Help me, God. Men, go to work." Meaning, throw some people overboard.

After a while, the Mate again exclaimed, "Men, you must go to work or we shall all perish."

Then he directed the crew "...not to part man and wife, and not to throw over any woman."

No lots were cast. The crew, including Holmes, threw into the water 14 male passengers and two women. No member of the crew was thrown into the water.

The next afternoon, the longboat was picked up by a passing ship and all still aboard were saved. Holmes was indicted for manslaughter on the high seas, in the case of United States v. Holmes. The case was decided in 1842.

If you were on that jury, what would YOU have done?

[The book I got this out of didn't say why the rest of the crew were not charged, or if they weren't. It only used Holmes as an example.]

Scenario #2 (true):

1884. Three able-bodied English seamen and a 17-year-old English boy survived a shipwreck 1600 miles from the Cape of Good Hope and were compelled to put out in the open seas in a lifeboat. They had no water. They had no food except 2 tins of turnips.

On the fourth day, they caught a small turtle. This was the only food they had for 20 days. On the 18th day, when they had been without food or water for many days (apparently they had caught some rain water, but had been without any water for at least 5 days), 2 of the seamen suggested to the third (who did not agree) that someone be sacrificed to save the other three.

On the 19th day Seaman Dudley, suggested they draw lots to determine who should be put to death. Finally, on the 20th day, Dudley, with Stephens' assent (but without the assent of the third seaman) went to the boy (without drawing lots), told him his time had come, and put a knife in the boy's throat.

Before being killed, the boy had been lying on the bottom of the boat, quite helpless, extremely weakened by starvation and from drinking seawater, and was unable to put up resistance.

The three men (including, of course, the seaman who had refused to take part in the killing) fed upon the boy and drank his blood, for four days. On the fourth day, they were picked up by a passing vessel.

Dudley and Stephens were indicted for murder (The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens, 1884.)

Knowing that they had no idea they were about to be rescued, and given their unreasonable state of mind from being starved and thirst-crazed, and also considering the boy was dying at the time, what do you do if you are on THAT jury?

I will tell you what the juries did on both cases next time, but what would YOU do? What are your reasoning processes?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Please pray for Nancy

Looks like she may be in for a bad week come Monday. Just a hunch. The hyenas are circling and the feeding frenzy appears ripe to begin any day. Pull up a chair.

Also... since I've already dirtied the air with a political post... I was just wondering -- is Teddy Kennedy still drawing a paycheck? Not that it would be wrong by Senate standards and ethics. Not saying that. If Senators Kerry and Obama never showed up, why should Ted? I swear to god this is not malicious muckraking. I was only curious. I know he didn't die because we would be in deep mourning for all he's done for our country. But I just haven't heard anything about him since Inauguration Day when Obama stuck a spoon in his mouth to keep him from swallowing his tongue. Any updates you may have on the absent senator from Massachusetts would be appreciated. And updates on brother Al Franken too, please. Hmmmm... that's two states that start with M that only have one senator. I think I see a pattern here.

Page 2

In other happier news, I have just been invited by juno007 to become his 341st friend on Blog Catalog. Juno007 has been with Blog Catalog since March of this year and writes,
"hi i juz visited yur blog.i wud love if u visit mine and click ads" 
Ah, yes. Tempting. Of course I can't help but wonder if friend number 127 is still being properly attended to. Perhaps they go out for drinks and what not. juno007 has several blogs. He blogs about software and tourist destinations, specializing in Southeast Asia. So I suppose it is easy to understand my excitement at this invitation. Recent shouts to juno007's shoutbox include this gem by "Peculiar Dad" which simply asks juno007, "hey there. appreciate your visit. do you know about jesus?" Well, fuck no, PC - why don't you tell me? And this from urawabisnis, who said: "tanks to join be my friends. you have nice blog too"

Heartwarming, no?

And, finally, this from bettieblogger: "heya, juno :) thanks for the visit! did you mean my Bettie blog or my Cooking blog? take care, Bettie"

Ehhhhhhh... your COOKING blog, Bettie. Yeah. That's the ticket.

So there you are. I will leave it up to you to decide if I gain a new blog buddy in Malaysia or not. I always trust your judgement. Please let me know what to do in your comments.

Some of you know I live in cowboy country. Well, Indian country is more like it, but the Indians are cowboys so I guess I live in cowboy country too. We drive pickups. Old pickups. Often with sheep in them. None are insured. When I say Indians, I mean feather, not dot. (Thank you Ettarose) although we have several dots as well who live here. Sunday mornings are quiet in our little New Mexico town. Downright peaceful, actually. This is mostly because the Indians are still in jail from Saturday night, and none of the Mexicans have gotten their trucks started yet.

I was stopped at a stoplight behind a rather natty faded blue 1957 Apache Chevy with one brown door, and a rocking chair in the back holding an old squaw who glared straight at me for the duration of the red light, and I chuckled at the clever cowboy bumpersticker stuck to the rust on the back bumper: "Horn broke. Watch for finger signals."

That about says it all for me for this time.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Shaved Pussy

Every couple of months or so we try to do a post or series of posts which will hopefully work to optimize our search engine visitation activity. The technical term for this is SEO. I can't really afford to pay a professional to optimize my blog visits from search engines, so I just struggle along on my own as best I can. I DO know what the most popular search terms are for Google and Yahoo and MCN. (These popular terms have nothing to do with explaining electricity or the U.S. Constitution.) So, generally, in order to get a bump in my traffic to the blog, I will occasionally make a post that purposely includes these popular search words and terms. The most recent post I made was well-received and DID get me a fair pop on my stats. I'm hoping this post will do just as well.

Please bear with me on this. We may get some new and interesting readers to banter back and forth with.

Thank you.

PS - I think this is different than PageRank. The people who visit don't generally link to me but only leave obscene angry comments. But every little bit helps.

Fanny shaves her beaver.
Dick admires his neighbor's bush.
Dick gets his cock out.
Fanny has a sore pussy.
Dick has a tug.
Dick spanks the monkey.
Fanny loves semen.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Power Company

At the very top of everything in the USA, government-wise and authority-wise, is the U.S. Federal Government. Or so those who think they are at the top would have you believe.

The federal government is the big boss, at the very top, and it tells the states what to do. It also regulates the daily lives of U.S. citizens. Anything it wants to do, it can do. And does it ever do! Laws by the hundreds - orders for the states and the people to abide by. It knows what's best for all of us. The federal courts, especially the Supreme Court, is over all the state courts and can overturn anything the state courts do. It is very powerful indeed. How much of this paragraph is true?

While the above may have come (nearly) to pass in today's world in the USA, it isn't really anything like the writers of our constitution had in mind. It wasn't what the states had in mind when they agreed to the new constitution, either. Indeed the constitution doesn't really say anything like the above at all. So how did we get into this sorry mess (my opinion) where the servant of the states grew into a seven-headed (at least) monster that devours everything in it's path, money-wise, angers the rest of the world and strikes terror into the hearts of the states and the citizens? Let's investigate. Then let's discuss how we can tame this monster and put it back in harness.

The first (and most important) thing Americans need to remember, or be informed of, is that the the federal government has only the powers the states allow it to have. The states "cede" certain powers to the federal government, and they can "uncede" them at will (by modifying the constitution, which only the states can do.) Somehow, the federal government has bluffed the states and the people into believing that all power derives from the top, that THEY are at the top, and that they are the final word in all things.

However, our constitution is what defines who has what powers, not the bureaucrats. What does the constitution say?

Earlier, we talked about the Preamble to the constitution. Although not law, the Preamble told us why the actual constitution was being written: to make the lives of individual citizens better and to form a better union between the several states. Frankly, it left no doubt where the true power was coming from: "We, the people...".

Now we look at the very first Article of the actual constitution.

Article I, Section 1. "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."

Oh, my. Trouble already. I would call your attention to the word "granted".

The U.S. Constitution is essentially an enumeration of the powers that the new federal government would have. It is clear from the very first sentence that this listing of federal powers was "granted" by someone or something. If something is "granted" to you, that means the person or thing doing the "granting" is superior to you. Otherwise, you could just TAKE the power.

So... who is doing the granting? Ostensibly the several states which had decided to form a union, but more correctly the PEOPLE who lived in those several states. The state governments, after all, existed only at the pleasure of the people and for the purpose of carrying out the will of the majority of those people, as made known through their representation in the state legislatures.

Remember our discussion defining what a republican form of government is? ("Republican" meaning "a republic" - nothing to do with the political party that was formed much later.) Remember that the definition of that form of government was that the power rested with the citizens of the country, but was expressed through their elected representatives.

That is the not-so-subtile difference between a republic and a pure democracy: representation. In a pure democracy, majority rules. Period. Government by referendum. We don't have that form of government. In the USA, whether at the federal level or at the state level, only very large and important issues are put directly to the people. In a republic, the people we choose to represent us engage in democracy, not the people directly (except in the actual choosing of our representation, and an occasional legitimate referendum.)

Here we could argue the merits of pure democracy, but the end result would be an agreement that it is too cumbersome (in a very populous country) to have the individual citizens vote on each and every issue that comes up. For example, should our country be attacked, it would be rather foolish to have the people vote on what to do about it. Not while we are being killed. Our representatives are supposed to keep in touch and know our minds and do what the majority of us WOULD have done. The result, of course, is that up to half the people are always dissatisfied with their representation.

This constant segment of dissatisfaction, incidentally, is what keeps representatives who wish to be reelected listening to the citizens. The loyal opposition keeps those who are in power ever vigilant, with ears constantly open. At least that was the intent.

What very important thing have we learned from the very first sentence of the constitution?

In my opinion, it is that the framers of the constitution intended to give the federal government the powers needed to govern effectively, while denying it so much power that it would have had the ability to abridge the liberty of the governed.

To be continued. (There are even more sentences to discuss. :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A very special award

I don't know exactly what this was originally for, but I know who it came from and that's all that counts.

Thank you very much, Ettarose. :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Traveling Wilburys

The Traveling Wilburys (from left): Lucky Wilbury, Otis Wilbury, Charlie T., Jr., Nelson Wilbury, Lefty Wilbury.

Later their names changed. Just because. On Volume 3, Lucky became Boo Wilbury; Otis became Clayton Wilbury; Charlie T. became Muddy Wilbury; Nelson became Spike Wilbury. Lefty was gone.
I doubt if anyone reading this doesn't remember or know about the traveling Wilburys, but perhaps some have forgotten how this "super group" happened to be formed. Here is an abbreviated version.

George Harrison, a solo artist, had just released his "Cloud Nine" album and was looking to release one of the songs as a single. He needed another song for the "B" side of the single. While Harrison was in Los Angeles, he asked Jeff Lynne (of Electric Light Orchestra) to help him with this song. This was natural, since Lynne had produced the "Cloud Nine" album that had just been released in Europe. But then started an almost incredibly coincidental chain of events.

It happened that Lynne was at the time also working with Roy Orbison on Roy's "Mystery Girl" album. This was in 1988. Roy (himself a prolific songwriter) also agreed to pitch in to help write the needed song for Harrison. That was the first coincidence, and we now have three rock and roll legends in one place working on one song. But the coincidence chain continues.

George Harrison needed his guitar. As luck would have it, he had left it at Tom Petty's house. He, too, offered to pitch in on the song collaboration. Four rock and roll legends. They finished the song and showed up at the studio for Harrison to record it.

The studio belonged to their friend, Bob Dylan. He was there.

George Harrison: "And so everybody was there and I thought, I'm not gonna just sing it myself - I've got Roy Orbison standing there. I'm gonna write a bit for Roy to sing. And then, as it progressed, then I started doing the vocals and I just thought I might as well push it a bit and get Tom and Bob to sing the bridge." The final result was a song called "Handle With Care."

It wasn't destined for the "B" side of a single. They came up with 9 other songs and made an album. They called the album Volume 1, tongue in cheek of course - not likely there would ever be another album. And what would they call the hastily-formed group?

There are always mistakes in the recording of music. Equipment failures. Mistakes. Whatever. Sometimes it requires another take. Sometimes they don't bother. As George Harrison said of one such mistake, "We'll bury that in the mix." Ha. But then someone decided "We'll bury" was not a bad name for a band like theirs. We'll bury. Wilbury. The Trembling Wilburys. No. The Traveling Wilburys. And so it was.

I really have a hard time choosing a favorite song by The Traveling Wiburys. They went on to make another album, and I like much of that too, although they were not the same people (Roy Orbison unexpectedly passed away right after "Mystery Girl", and so I like the original song, "Handle With Care" a lot, because Roy was prominent in the bridge of that song. Other songs I really like include "End of the Line", Dylan's "Nobody's Child", and a haunting remake of the sad-fated Del Shannon's "Runaway."

There were a couple of songs the supergroup made that were never released. One of these was a song that featured George Harrison, called "Maxine". When the original albums were re-released in 2007 as a boxed set, "Maxine" was released too. It had the vocals okay but some of the guitar needed overdubbing. What to do? - George Harrison had died in 2001. Here's a little bit of trivia for you: a new Wilbury was created for that duty on "Maxine". His name became Ayrton Wilbury. His real name was Dhani Harrison, George's son.

I thought Julian Lennon looked a lot like his father. But Dhani Harrison could BE his father. The first time I saw a picture of him, I thought George Harrison had come back to life and it was the 1960s again. I swear.

Click below picture of the original Traveling Wilburys to enlarge.

Picture of George Harrison (click to enlarge)

Picture of Dhani Harrison (click to enlarge)

Watch the "Wilbury Twist" video RIGHT HERE!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why do you blog?

This subject has been brought up many times in the past, and you have probably already read a post or two about it, or maybe even written about it yourself. Usually, the question elicits lists of possible reasons why people blog. Such a list might look something like this:

To keep a diary or journal
To make money
To make friends
To express yourself
To generate interest in a project
To talk to yourself
To publicize (or analyze) some subject you care about
To interact; to discuss things; to debate things

There are more, of course. These just come to my mind. I don't know why YOU blog, so this post is an analysis of why I blog. I hope, though, in the comments, you will talk about why YOU blog as well as make observations about why I blog.

In addition to liking to write, I also like to take photos and collect music (mostly old music.)

One time I was on a photography forum and the question was posed to photographers, "Why do you like to take pictures?" The first answer that popped into my head was the same as it would be if the question had been about writing or collecting music. All three things bring me joy.

If I dig deeper though, and ask WHY those things bring me joy, then I get a better idea of why I do them. I'm not sure I can tell you why I enjoy collecting music. One the one hand, it has the same attraction as collecting coins or stamps or butterflies or anything else: to own examples of each variety and variation.

On the other hand, music satisfies a larger need in me that collecting coins probably couldn't satisfy: listing to it stimulates memories and invites dreaming. I have read that if you expose your young child to Mozart, he will do better in mathematics. I don't know: I really like Mozart, but I am not good at (or even particularly interested in) the higher mathematics. I do know that when I am alone and listening to music (in the background, so to speak) I am aware that I seem to get greater clarity and more original ideas. I must admit I am not talking about rap or hip hop music here.

This is not necessarily true with writing or with photography. Of course photography can be used to document examples of varieties and variations. Before photography, Audubon painted beautiful pictures of all the varieties of birds he could find. He documented them. His paintings often show even more idealized detail than a photograph would have.

You can buy reference books on many subjects. A reference book on trees, for example, would have photos of many varieties of trees, with close ups of their leaves and their seeds and their fruit.

So, one reason people take photographs, or write, is to document things; to tell what a thing consists of, either by describing it in writing or by taking a photograph of it.

Another reason, I think, is to represent a larger meaning than may be immediately evident; to try and convey some larger purpose by taking a photograph or creating a painting. Often paintings are created from the inside out in that respect. When you look at something like Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night", you just KNOW you are looking at more than a rather primitive, even hurried,  picture of a dark night with stars in the sky. It might take you a few moments to contemplate what that "something" is, but you FEEL something inside when you look at it. Suddenly it becomes very personal indeed. Even if you are never able to explain it to others with words, you somehow KNOW what it means to you. You, in some weird way, are able to connect your own life experiences with Vincent's, and identify with him for a brief moment.

This can be accomplished with skilled photography as well, although I don't think you see that many great photographs like you used to see with the so-called masters of early photography. This, I think, is because in its infancy photography was STILL almost like painting. Painting with light. It is still that today, but most people now use it to simply capture a scene which they want to later share with others. There is not nearly as much artistic effort made to create photo essays or photo collages or photo series which together carry a larger meaning. Using a series of photos to expose a social injustice (such as child labor, or the plight of immigrants) is almost becoming a lost art.

So I return to my original premise of why I blog and why I take photographs and restate that the reasons, for me, are the same: I want to explain things clearly. I want to present the larger makeup of things through the unique filter of my own eyes and my own life experiences.

Some of us have an uncontrollable urge to find out the inner meaning, or, at least, the TRUE meaning of things, if we can. Some of us spend our entire life as investigators, as lifelong learners. Like the child who takes things apart to see what makes them tick, we have never grown up in that respect. We are not always so interested in putting them back together again once we learn their secrets.

We soon learn, however, that there is not much money to be made with learning more and more information to the point of being walking encyclopedias. No, the only way such people as we can earn a living is by SHARING what we have learned. So, long ago, I have learned to be an interpreter by trade, not just a gatherer of facts for my own delight. I share by writing stories and analyses; I share by documenting the facets of things - exposing their essential makeup; describing with words and describing with photographs.

The urge inside me that I cannot shake is the will to translate life as I pass through it, and so I write and I think and I document the makeup of things with photographs and even more writing, and sometimes with musical backgrounds to those things.

And I blog.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Shuffling off this mortal coil, part deux

In the course of my research for a section of a book I am trying to put together, I made a listing of the various ways that capital punishment was administered throughout history. The article was not about the moral debate surrounding capital punishment, only the methods used.

I found it interesting that most of the "new and improved" methods were adopted (the more recent ones, I mean) because people thought the new method would be more "humane" to the person who was in the process of settling his debt to society. By "humane" I think they mean "quicker" or "less painful". This was not a consideration earlier, since slow and painful was part of the attraction. Societies change. I won't make a comment on why "fast and painless" is felt to be a good thing, because then I would be getting back into the moral aspect of capital punishment (not to mention our constitution prohibits "slow and painful") and I don't want to do that - except to say that if societies feel guilty about doing it then maybe they ought to stop doing it.

In the U.S., currently, most states have switched to "lethal injection" as their means of execution. The jury is still out, metaphorically speaking, on whether "lethal injection" is more "humane" than, say, the gas chamber. Both induce a feeling of suffocation. This feeling is because of the fact that the person is being suffocated.

The electric chair still exists. In recent years the gas chamber was widely used. A firing squad is available in some places. Hanging used to be very prevalent. In Washington D.C., they probably try to talk you to death. There is much lethal gas there as well.

In Europe, the practice of separating a person's head from his body was a crowd favorite for a long time. At the beginning, this usually meant using an ax, but later the technique was refined in the form of a guillotine, although this was mainly used in France and, earlier, Ireland, I think.

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, if you want to talk about slow and painful. So were several witches. But this was not considered cruel and unusual since it was the Christian thing to do. Sorry - I see I am slipping in more moralizing again. Stopping that now.

The garrote, in its various forms, seems to have been limited to South America. It was perfected almost to the point of automation: a person was seated in a special chair near a sturdy post and the garrote was placed around the neck and tightened by twisting it with a rod until just the slightest jolt would snap the neck. Then it was, ummmm.... jolted. Usually the person had already passed out from the twisting part. In a normal garroting, you will probably recall, the garrote (usually piano wire, in mafia movies) is attached to a handle on either end and then looped over the garrotee's neck from behind and tightened. Connie's husband in Godfather One met his demise this way. Kicked out the windshield, as you remember. This is only Hollywood, though - in real life, a piano wire garrote would have the messy side-effect of decapitating the loved one.

I found many fascinating articles on executioners and their techniques, as well as anecdotal information on actual executions. This includes the odd relationship, never fully explained by psychoanalysts, between the condemned and his executioner. A bond is often formed, even to the point of love. Odd. In medieval times, the condemned would embrace the executioner and often was expected to thank him. Sometimes, back in ax-chopping days, the family would tip the executioner in order to insure his complete attention to making the first cut count. I'm guessing the family of Mary Queen of Scots neglected the tipping and got the shoddy job history relates.

One of the things that was also of interest was the methods of putting doubt in the minds of executioners in modern times. I personally don't believe an executioner acting on behalf of the state has anything to be ashamed or guilty about, but apparently some executioners do let it eat at them over time. As a result, the states have come up with various "doubt-inducing" devices to ease the poor executioner's troubled mind.

For example, when the execution involves a firing squad (for example in the military or in the state of Utah) the mental salvation of doubt comes in the form of a blank cartridge which is loaded into one of the (usually six) weapons that will be used in the execution. The executioners do not load their own weapons, and since they pick up their weapons in random order, even the person who loaded them no longer knows which contains the blank cartridge. The point is, of course, that each member of the firing squad is given a reasonable doubt that his bullet did not take the life of the condemned.

In an execution involving an electric chair, at least one state used two executioners who pushed separate buttons simultaneously, and thus neither could say for sure that it was his button (a switch which directed the electrical current) was the "live" button or not. It has been reported (but not confirmed by me) that in some cases this deception was also extended to gas chamber executions, where the actual dunking of the cyanide pellets into the waiting sulfuric acid tank was accomplished by two levers being thrown simultaneously. Could work. Don't know.

Before the invention of the guillotine, the executioner sometimes (often enough to be of more than passing interest) missed his mark with the ax. A famous case was the execution of Mary Queen of Scots where history tells us the executioner had to take tw0 extra ummm... mulligans, as it were.

History also tells us that fast deaths were often reserved for noblemen, and that the normal riff raff were often tortured to death. It didn't say whether an admission was charged, or whether attendance was free, just as a royal perk to the working class.

On special occasions, though, noblemen were treated to a much slower death. Treason against the crown - for example, when those involved in the conspiracy against queen Elizabeth were found out they were tortured until their consciousness was no longer in attendance. This in public, to boot. Presumably, this was done to get the attention of others who may have been thinking of saying something bad about HRH Bess. The torturee was laid out on an operating (surgery) table of sorts and disemboweled without benefit of anesthetic, and then his intestines were sauteed on a grill that was burning next to the table. Without actually cutting them out, of course. It was amazing how long a person can go on living if the executioner is careful. The point of course, was pain.

Oddly the "more accurate and humane" machine that replaced the ax (the guillotine) was the source of scientific experiment.

It was noticed by the executioner that the eyes in the decapitated head would continue to blink for some time after the separation occurred. Executioners, indeed, would sometimes pick up the head and stare into the eyes to see if there were any recognition, and it was believed this was so.

It makes sense: the brain would not immediately die, and would presumably still have control of the items above the severed portion of the spinal cord, such as the lips and cheeks and eyes. Obviously, with no air to send up over the vocal cords, even if those cords were still intact, there could be no speech.

Does the severed head retain several seconds of actual consciousness after the guillotine has dropped? In spite of the various stories, I personally don't believe it: the massive drop in blood pressure from the brain would certainly cause immediate unconsciousness, would it not?

But there are those who disagree. The following report was written by a Dr. Beaurieux, who experimented with the head of a condemned prisoner by the name of Henri Languille, on June 28, 1905:

Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. This phenomenon has been remarked by all those finding themselves in the same conditions as myself for observing what happens after the severing of the neck...

I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. [...] It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: 'Languille!' I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.

Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again[...].

It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement – and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Homer Tribble passes at age 42

A tribute to a tribble.

First, let me deny that this post exists simply to prove I know about subjects Soubriquet has never heard of.

Homer Tribble was not just any tribble. 

I know that's a pretty brash statement because, well, ALL tribbles are just like any other tribble, right?

Homer is the tribble in the cup on the left, above, being held by Kirk's well-manicured right hand.

Fact: tribbles are born pregnant.

Some of you knew that. The result of this odd genetic characteristic is illustrated in the below photo.
A closer look (below) shows Spock feeling Homer's rump as he ignores Bone's inane blathering about there being no toilet paper in any of the johns on the observation deck. One doesn't even want to contemplate what Bone's bright idea to solve this problem with tribbles is. Some have asserted (as a matter of peripheral interest) that Nimoy was sexually aroused in this scene, due to a latent fur fetish.

Note that Bones has his medical scanner hung around his neck. The is the same scanner that always seemed to turn into a Tricorder during landing missions. Why bother paying for extra unneeded props? No reason.

Trivia question: How did they finally get rid of the tribbles?

a. Spock gave them all the Vulcan nerve pinch
b. Scotty incinerated them in an anti-matter pod
c. They transported them onto the Klingon vessel
d. They were unable to get rid of them and the series was cancelled

Homer was buried with full honors on Rigel 7, Saturday last. Nurse Chapel represented the Federation. Travel arrangements by Priceline.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Preambling into a new experiment in government

The Articles of Confederation had failed to achieve the vision of the leaders of the several states - the founding fathers, as we have come to call them - or at least those who were around back in the beginning we call founding fathers.

Why did they try again? They could have gone back to being individual states. They were pretty friendly with each other now, after the war.

They tried again because there were still enough people who believed in the obvious benefits of a formal union between the states - at least in the benefits of a common defense against unfriendly outsiders, and the regulation of commerce between the states.

Virginia probably didn’t care terribly much about how Massachusetts and New York conducted their internal affairs, and the feeling was probably mutual, but there WAS still a desire to cooperate in things that affected all the states: again, mostly commerce and the other things that were common problems and common opportunities. Speaking with one voice, on certain issues, at least, was recognized, even then, as being a valuable thing.

Still, nobody particularly wanted to give up any soveriegnty, either. Shades of the later EU.

So, the need for a Union - a more effective union than they had had under the Articles of Confederation - was still recognized. And the issue of soverignty - states’ rights - was still in need of a compromise being hammered out. Our present-day constitution is the result of that desire for a union, and that eventual compromise, spelled out in words.

In fact, the reason for the constitution is actually stated pretty clearly in the document itself, in the Preamble: “... in order to form a more perfect union... “

The complete statement of purpose - the entire preamble - reads as follows:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The capitalization of certain of the words was in the form of the day. They capitalized whatever words were important. Which is to say, whatever they felt like capitalizing. The rules of grammar were easier to teach back then: you made them up as you went along.

The actual constitution was written by a relatively few men, but the debate as to what points were to be put into it and how it was to be worded, involved many people. Then, once it was written, it had to be sold to all the states. Some of them weren’t buying at first.

[next: part two of 1,027 parts.]

(Well, I hope not.)

[Note: I can almost hear the wheels clicking and turning inside A.’s delightful head. “It was either perfect, or not perfect. If they didn’t like it the first time, then it could not have been perfect. If it were perfect, they would not have wanted to change it. Therefore, the purpose can not have been ‘to form a more perfect union’.” Sigh. Ah, well. Just chalk it up to the times: the founding fathers were just that way. They wore ruffled shirts. Puffy pirate shirts. They wore powdered wigs. That’s just the way they talked. They were... effusive.]  :)

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Your page may be rank

A lot of people care about PageRank, apparently. Ettarose the saint slash comedienne is obsessed with PageRank. Even my delusional friend Gavin Fukwitski over at pwn greenland is concerned about PageRank. Always has been, although he would probably not admit it in public. That would not be cool. Right now he is mostly irritated that people in India who speak broken English and and have no PageRank are trying to be his friends on BlogCatalog. But I am drifting off subject.

What is PageRank?

A lot of people are under the impression PageRank has something to do with Google's rating of your blog slash website. Those people are correct. My point here, however, is to give you more information than that. Perhaps even some USEFUL information. You never know.

First piece of information is that you need to have a tool in your browser's toolbar to find out what the PageRank is of the page you are visiting. If you have Google's toolbar, then you already have it, of course. There is also one (a better one) on Safari for Mac, but I am not going to tell you where to get that tool because you have all, at one time or another, scorned me for using a Mac in the first place. So I guess none of you need to know. Except Canucklehead who also uses a Mac but who won't read down this far in the post so never mind him.

The next thing you need to know is, once you have that tool to tool around with, is what the number means. PageRank goes 0 through 10 but one is low and 9 is high. So if you have a 4 like most of us, you are not that great but pretty cool. I am only saying this because some of you aspire to have a 1 PageRank and I thought I would clue you in that that is not a worthy goal.

Then.... well, you don't REALLY need to know this but PageRank is named after the inventor of the algorithm and his name is Larry Page. So that is where the name came from, not because you are having a "page" on your blog ranked. Well, you are, but.... never mind.

PageRank is a trademark. Page gave the trademark rights to Stanford University where he was going to school when he was inventing ranking algorithms and devising innovative search engine techniques. Page and his friend Sergey Brin, another Stanford student went on to perfect their little algorithm ranking thing and also their search engine which the boys gave the outrageous name of "Google" to. What a dumb name. But then they went public with their little company recently and cashed in for billions of dollars each, so I guess I shouldn't belittle them.

Although there have been many innovations which make the original concept more sophisticated, PageRank continues to be the basis for all of Google's web-search tools.

What you REALLY want to know is what PageRank really is, what it represents, and, perhaps, how to make your own PageRank higher than it is right now.

Because of all your snotty comments about how long my posts are, I should make you wait until tomorrow to tell you that. I have a notoriously short attention span though, so I will just tell you what I found out right here and now.

First, since PageRank is based (mainly, at least) on how popular you are (doh) it stands to reason that your number is related to how many incoming links there are to your site. Your page, I mean. And if you have links coming in to you from "important" sites (like this one), you get more brownie points in the algorithm. So if the linking website has a high PageRank, you get more "credits" under the algorithm parameters. (An algorithm is just a fancy name for a "system" for getting some job done, in which you include all the variables you can think of to be taken into consideration, so your conclusion is more valid. The dictionary may have a better definition than the one I just gave you off the top of my head, but only losers look at dictionaries, right?)

So... how do you raise your page rank? First you send Larry Page some money. Kidding. He sold out. What you do is make a donation to Stanford. Or Sanford and Son. Kidding again. No, what you do is you (ta DAH!) try to induce people to link to you, and also do things yourself, proactively, which cause links to be placed from other sites to YOUR site.

Jesus, Ettarose, you still have that blank look on your face.

Stuff like commenting on forums, and posting a lot on your blog. Getting on many bloglists (those count as incoming links, and so do those new Google "follower" widgets now.)

Write articles and guest posts on other sites and make sure you put a link to your site in the guest posts. Be nice to others as well: when I get done with this post, as I nearly am, I intend to go back and create links to Ettarose and even Canucklehead. [If you have a blogspot blog, then make a lot of comments on other blogs, because you leave behind a link that takes interested people to your blogger profile. I guess you should make a lot of comments on ALL blogs, not just Blogspot blogs. Sorry.]

There are MANY more things you can do to cause more links to be coming in to your blog or other site. Study up on it. And try to suck up to the very popular sites (like this one) because those sites are weighted more in the algorithm. Stay away from worthless sites like Pwn Greenland or Canucklehead. Some sites are worth paying them money to link to you (like this one.) Kidding. NO site is worth paying to link to you.

[You know what? It just occurred to me that Entrecard could help you (which I just quit), not because of the widget (nobody, including Google, cares about how much 2-second worthless traffic Entrecard gives you), but because several other members might have you on a "drop list" and that is usually a list of links they click on. Hmmmmm. Too late now.]

Of course, there are still those who say the algorithm can be manipulated. Go figure.

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